contemporary middle grade

Debut Club: Elly Swartz on FINDING PERFECT

Jen Petro-Roy interviewed fellow author Elly Swartz about her debut middle-grade novel, which was just published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Elly’s a member of the Sweet Sixteens, an online group for YA and middle-grade authors debuting this year. Jen rolls with the Swanky Seventeen.


FindingPerfectCover.jpgTo Molly Nathans, perfect is:

• The number four
• The tip of a newly sharpened number two pencil
• A crisp, white pad of paper
• Her neatly aligned glass animal figurines

What’s not perfect is Molly’s mother leaving the family to take a faraway job with the promise to return in one year. Molly knows that promises are often broken, so she hatches a plan to bring her mother home: Win the Lakeville Middle School Slam Poetry Contest. The winner is honored at a fancy banquet with table cloths. Molly’s sure her mother would never miss that. Right…?

But as time goes on, writing and reciting slam poetry become harder. Actually, everything becomes harder as new habits appear, and counting, cleaning, and organizing are not enough to keep Molly’s world from spinning out of control.

To buy ‘Finding Perfect’: amazonindieboundbarnesandnoble

Curriculum Guide: macmillan

Finding Perfect audio trailer: soundcloud


EllySchwartz (1).jpg

Elly Swartz is a middle-grade author. Her debut novel, FINDING PERFECT (FSG October, 2016) is about twelve-year-old Molly, friendships, family, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. Through the years, Elly’s been a Sesame Place ride operator, messenger, lawyer, legal author, and college essay adviser. She happily lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband, two sons and beagle named Lucy. If you want to connect with Elly or learn more about what she’s working on, you can find her at, on Twitter @ellyswartz or Facebook.


Here we go! When and how did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

I have always loved to read and write. But, about fifteen years ago, I decided to dive in and write the story that had been brewing for a while. It wasn’t so much that I knew I wanted to be a writer, as much as I knew I had a story I needed to tell.

How did you come up with the idea for your novel? Did you know this was “the one” right away?

One day, I woke-up with Molly in my head, and she wouldn’t leave until I told her story. At the time, I knew a number of adults and kids whom I was very close with who had OCD. I was awed by the disconnect between how they saw themselves and the world saw them. I then spent the next 7 years researching OCD, writing Molly’s story, and working with OCD pediatric specialists to authenticate the manifestation, discovery and treatment of Molly’s symptoms. Between research and the writing, I learned so much from Molly.

But my love for Molly’s journey in Finding Perfect had nothing to do with whether or not I thought this story was this was “the one”. It was simply, the one I had to tell. I wanted kids like Molly to know they are not alone. 500,000 children suffer from OCD. And, I wanted all kids to know that truly there is no such thing as perfect. There is simply kindness and empathy and love.

What was the revision process like for this book?

The journey was long, windy, and wonderful. Finding Perfect was originally written in alternating 1st person POVs between Molly and Hannah. It was a way for me to understand the vast discrepancy between how Molly saw herself and how Hannah saw her. Ultimately, I got to know Molly better, and rewrote the story from just her perspective. In doing so, I learned more about the dynamic between Molly, Kate and Ian, and Molly and her mom.

Molly has stayed with me long after wrapping up my final draft. Truly, I think a piece of Molly will stay with me always.

Imagine your perfect reader. How would you describe that person?

Anyone who loves a good story with a lot of heart!


Your book is about a slam poet. Do you have a favorite poem?

No. I love all slam because it truly comes from the poet’s heart and experience. Unique and authentic.

What were you reading when you were Molly’s age?

Everything by Judy Blume!

Favorite writing snack?


Do you write longhand or type?

Type. But if I’m stuck on a scene, I free-write in a notebook.

What was your favorite book when you were “Sweet 16”?

When I was Sweet 16, I was addicted to Flowers in the Attic (and the rest of the series) by V.C. Andrews. I was terrified by every turn of the page, but loved it nonetheless!

Music to write by? Or do you need silence?

Silence to write. Music to celebrate.


JenPetro-Roy.jpgJen Petro-Roy has wanted to be a writer ever since she was in the third grade, when she started writing poetry. (Sample: “Today I am sick. Sick in bed. Today I have a pain in my head.”) That’s also when her class performed a play she wrote about an evil witch who kidnaps a very brave girl. It was a smash hit.

Jen grew up and has always lived in Massachusetts, even though her ideal temperature is in the high eighties. When she isn’t living in the world of her stories, Jen is a teen librarian, where she lives in the world of others’ stories. She runs the Young Writers Club at her library and frequently speaks on the topic of eating disorder recovery. A trivia, board game and reading fanatic, Jen lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two young daughters, and a pair of whiny cats.

Jen’s debut, P.S. I MISS YOU, will be published in Winter 2018 by Macmillan/Feiwel and Friends. When Evie’s beloved teenage sister disappears after getting pregnant. Evie has to unravel the mystery of where her sister is and what happened to her, while navigating her first crush on a girl, her complicated relationship with her religious parents, and universal growing pains.

You can find Jen on Twitter as @jpetroroy, on Goodreads (goodreads) and on Facebook (facebook)


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